Announcing June's Geospatial Champion!
Congratulations to Sophie Stouki, Head of GIS at Costain for being selected as techUK’s ‘Geospatial Champion’ for June!
The purpose of techUK’s Geospatial Champion campaign is to celebrate the work of those pushing forward adoption of Geospatial in the tech sector. This is also an opportunity to learn from those working in Geospatial about the current landscape and examples of the strides being made in enhancing awareness.
A new techUK 'Geospatial Champion’ will be chosen every other month, so if you would like to nominate a friend or colleague to be the next Champion please drop us a line. You can read out interview with Sophie below
What is your current role and what does a typical day involve?
I am Costain’s Group Head of GIS and Geospatial Consultancy Lead. On a day-to-day basis, I am responsible for managing a team of Geospatial professionals and for leading our Geospatial advisory services. This involves making strategic decisions on efficient implementation of Geospatial applications in the Infrastructure industry as well as developing innovative, cutting edge solutions that harness the power of Geospatial services and datasets.
Why is Geospatial data valuable to the UK?
Location intelligence is integral to realising and maximising benefits from the plethora of spatial datasets that have become available to public and private organisations across the UK. Most of our activities and operations are impacted by the physical area in which they are taking place, whether linked to potential proximity to environmentally sensitive areas, reporting on biodiversity and natural capital gain, traffic congested locales, or even flood risk zones; hence relevant Geospatial datasets are fundamental in informing decisions that mitigate risk, improve communication between organisations and safeguard the environment, our colleagues and members of the public. Time and cost savings are thus evident; however, we would be amiss not to recognise the social value that can be derived from embedding Geospatial information around deprivation and social inequality around access to health services, education and employment opportunities to our decision making processes and policies.
Do you think the conversation around Geospatial data is changing in the UK? Why/ why not?
There is noticeable increased maturity around this topic, on innovative applications (the work of the Geospatial Commission is exemplary here), improved collection and dissemination methods, data quality and contemporaneity standards, and importantly, on the ethical use of Geospatial data for research and statistics (pertinent examples the work led by the Centre for Applied Data Ethics and Costain’s own Data Ethics framework). It goes without saying that we still have ground to cover before we are considered pioneers in this space, however we have made significant strides moving forward from the question of “why use Geospatial data” towards “how best to use Geospatial data”.
How do we showcase the value of Geospatial data to the technology sector?
It is rather prevalent that most modern applications (mobile or browser-based) include some form of map and Geospatial data as part of their services or to support users in deriving maximum benefit from the product. This trend, at its core, is a clear manifestation of the value of location information, whether it is to inform us of the most efficient route to our nearest health centre, how long until our delivery reaches us, or more recently, to communicate information and guidance around response to the COVID19 pandemic. These recent examples demonstrate clearly and unequivocally the merit of using Geospatial data to create powerful and successful value-added services.
What are your key concerns hindering increased deployment of Geospatial data in the technology sector?
We are privileged to live in an era of data abundancy- perhaps in certain fields more than others- available for general consumption under Open Data licenses and in user-friendly, interoperable formats. One of the challenges in this space is ensuring we derive value and make appropriate and efficient use of all this freely available information, which implies we understand the subject matter as well as the limitations of a dataset. Additional challenges can be perceived around data quality, vintage, sensitivity and anonymization, factors that may render Geospatial datasets not suitable for the intended use case.
What steps can companies take to utilize spatial data in their products and services?
It is noticeable that most forward-thinking organisations in the technology sector have embedded spatial data in their digital ecosystem, some of course more than others. A contributing factor might be ease of access but equally a hindering block could be pinpointed around absence of skills or awareness in this space. Professionals such as Geospatial experts and data scientists can inform these efforts and guide businesses through the journey of maximizing benefit from greater adoption of Geospatial data in their commercial solutions.
Can you give an example of where Geospatial data has been adopted in an innovative and new way?
Over the course of the past 5 years, Geospatial capabilities around data management, visualization and integration with adjacent discipline data sources have proven invaluable for efforts in the Digital Twin space. It is quickly becoming apparent that 2D or 3D Geospatial representations of assets, facilities, utilities and services, combined with design, programme and environmental information can produce powerful insights to improve scope, promote proactive maintenance and encourage scenario-based analytics.
How can we equip the next generation with the most appropriate skills for a future in Geospatial?
There are already significant efforts in this space focused on introducing the next generation to Geospatial technologies and capabilities. Organisations such as ESRI have made great strides in embedding GIS in school curricula by offering software, training as well as volunteering programmes for Geospatial experts to support Geography teachers in their efforts to promote Geospatial to students of all ages. In parallel, we are seeing young professionals adopting programming or coding skills much earlier in their academic or professional paths, which in turn gives them a competitive advantage in this space. It is also quite encouraging to see universities across the globe offering advanced Geospatial courses and degrees, while others are requiring mandatory Geospatial modules in specialisms where location plays an important role, such as environmental science, computer science and engineering, among others. As a last note, raising or promoting profiles of successful Geospatial professionals who have made notable achievements and contributions in their field can act as a source of inspiration and provide appropriate role models or even mentors for the next generation.